Have you ever been standing somewhere and, all of a sudden, you get an urge to turn around? The sensation that something is going on beyond the limits of your visual field is a common one, and yet, it hasn’t received much attention from researchers—until now.
In a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers studied how humans are able to detect movement outside of their visual field. Professor Satoshi Shioiri, from Research Institute of Electrical Communication at Tohoku University, in Japan, and his team designed a 6-panel-display that provided a 360-degree circle around 55 participants. Six letters were displayed on each panel at the same time, and viewers were asked to locate a particular letter, regardless of whether it was in front of them or behind them. After repeated exposure to the layout, viewers were able to correctly name the target letter faster and faster irrespective of whether or not it was in their visual field.
The results show that “representations of surroundings exist in the brain that can be used to ‘look back’ without the need for turning, perhaps for smooth and efficient movement. In other words, our brain constructs a 360-degree world even though visually we are usually only aware of the area in front of us.”
In other words, as people who live in a 360-dimensional world, our spatial awareness extends beyond that of what we can see in front of us. That’s why mothers are often aware when their kids are misbehaving even if they have their backs turned, making it seem as though they have “eyes in the back of their heads.”